Neil (Ben Affleck) is an American traveling in Europe who meets and falls in love with Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a Ukrainian divorcée who is raising her 10-year-old daughter Tatiana in Paris. The lovers travel to Mont St. Michel, the island abbey off the coast of Normandy, basking in the wonder of their newfound romance. Neil makes a commitment to Marina, inviting her to relocate to his native Oklahoma with Tatiana. He takes a job as an environmental inspector and Marina settles into her new life in America with passion and vigor. After a holding pattern, their relationship cools. Marina finds solace in the company of another exile, the Catholic priest Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who is undergoing a crisis of faith. Work pressures and increasing doubt pull Neil further apart from Marina, who returns to France with Tatiana when her visa expires. Neil reconnects with Jane (Rachel McAdams), an old flame. They fall in love until Neil learns that Marina has fallen on hard times. ...Written by
Visually stunning, but my least favourite Malick film
Terrence Malick is one of those directors that I appreciate very highly. His previous five films range from very good(The New World), great(Badlands) to outstanding(The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven and The Tree of Life), but if anybody doesn't like them or Malick I won't hold anything against them as Malick has a very unique style that also isn't widely accessible. After loving The Tree of Life, I was met with disappointment watching To the Wonder(and from being familiar with Malick's style and researching it I did know what to expect), it is my least favourite film of his and the only one that didn't do much for me.
As always with Malick, To the Wonder does look absolutely stunning,- excepting a weirdly edited first few minutes- the cinematography has a very dream-like quality to it, the colours positively leap out at you in an eye-popping way and the scenery has a sweeping beauty. Every single one of Malick's films are among the most beautiful films visually I've seen, with every frame having a breathtakingly naturalistic quality without feeling too orchestrated. The classical-style music gives an audibly rich, overwhelmingly emotional and quite haunting quality to To the Wonder, fitting perfectly with every image on screen.
Rachel McAdams and especially Olga Kurylenko give great performances. McAdams is dignified and radiant, while Kurylenko is very touching in her role, and it helps that her character Marina is the most interesting character in the film. Malick's style is unmistakable, and it is clear that he has put a lot of thought into his directing.
He is not entirely successful though. His directing has a thoughtful and philosophical touch, but I did get the sense that he was trying too hard and that he was focusing too much on some aspects and not enough on others. I know a lot of people felt the same with The Tree of Life, but for me that To the Wonder was the first time I got that feeling. While McAdams and Kurylenko are great, Ben Affleck spends much of the film looking lost and Javier Bardem has a rather over-didactic delivery which doesn't allow the poetry of his voice overs to come through enough. It also doesn't help that his scenes feel as though they're from a different film altogether.
The voice overs are very poetically written, Kurylenko's are really quite touching, but a few are a little preachy and are overwhelmed by the music. I have no problem with slow pacing, Malick's films are deliberately meditative and some of my favourite films are the same. But when the story came across as emotionally empty and disjointed and the themes of love, faith and whatnot not developed enough, To the Wonder did feel dull(and I didn't feel that way with any of his previous films). As for the characters, only Marina resonated with me with the rest- especially Bardem's Father Quintana- coming across as disconnected.
Overall, didn't love it or hate it, though I can definitely understand those that fall into either of those categories. If anything I was mixed on To the Wonder, and while it was visually and audibly stunning with two great performances, what worked for me in Malick's previous five films didn't here. By all means though I will give it a second look, I always got the impression that Malick's films should be seen more than once. It worked to some extent as an experience, but I wasn't engaged or emotionally invested in it enough to consider it working as a mood-piece(both of which Malick's films essentially are).
5/10 Bethany Cox
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